HIV risk not to be underestimated

  • Star: Carolyn Armstrong, a counsellor for people with HIV and AIDS, outside the Light House residential facility in Smith’s (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

    Star: Carolyn Armstrong, a counsellor for people with HIV and AIDS, outside the Light House residential facility in Smith’s (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

A veteran counsellor warned the island yesterday not to be complacent about the risk of contracting HIV, despite a massive drop in the number of new cases.

Carolyn Armstrong, the director and founder of Support Therapy for Aids patients and their Relatives, warned that young people, in particular, needed to be warned of the dangers.

Dr Armstrong said: “We are seeing fewer cases, but who’s to say HIV is not out there, with people not getting tested as they should.

“Young people are more promiscuous today, but there is not enough conversation about choices. They are not being taught.”

She added: “I have not come across any young people who don’t feel invincible. When it comes to health, I’m sorry to say there is not enough of a conversation within our senior schools and middle schools.”

The latest figures from the Ministry of Health show HIV-positive infection, which peaked in the mid-1980s was in decline with five new diagnoses of the virus last year.

Bermuda has had 778 diagnoses of HIV-positive since 1982.

There were 299 people on the island known to be infected at the end of last year.

The disease is incurable, but improvements in treatment meant there were no cases of Aids, when the virus starts to attack the immune system.

Dr Armstrong said Bermudians should be “proud. We are no longer in panic mode and we have sustained zero transmission of HIV from mothers to babies for many years”.

She added: “Back in the day, you could look at a person with HIV and see that they looked ill. Today, people are healthy and vibrant and doing well. That is where appearances can be somewhat misleading.”

Dr Armstrong said young people were dealing with “pressures that are totally different” because of changed behaviour and the growth of social media.

She said: “HIV does not discriminate. Being safe is all about your choices in your behaviour.”

Dr Armstrong was speaking as Star prepared to told a fundraising and education day next Saturday at the charity’s Light House residential centre in Smith’s.

The event will feature swimming, running, walking and cycling in the Harrington Sound area to raise cash for Star’s work. The open house will also feature sports, face painting and a fun castle.

Dr Armstrong said: “With the cost of living soaring, we have found we must do some innovative fundraising. We don’t want to be a charity just living to survive. We want to take care of our clients.”

Light House had more than 200 HIV-positive residents since it opened its doors in 1993 and is home to eight people at present.

Dr Armstrong said: “Our grant was cut several years ago. We’ve had to talk about low funding. I have had residents ask ‘what will happen to me?’”

She added that stigma and fear over the virus, which is mainly transmitted through sexual contact and that families were often still reluctant to be associated with HIV.

Dr Armstrong said: “When someone gets ill and goes to Agape House, the donations will go to the hospice, not to Star.

“We have had residents die of cancer and the proceeds will go to Pals, the cancer charity.

“Families don’t want to be linked to the fact that their family member contacted HIV and died from it. That’s still around.”

But she added that “many people still have no idea how easy it is to contract a sexually transmitted disease”.

Dr Armstrong said members of the public should get tested and practise safe sex.

The November 30 open house, the day before World Aids Day, will also offer health screening and counselling. Race participants can register on the day at 7.45am at the starting point by John Smith’s Bay, or sign up online at For more information, contact Star at 292-5951 or 335-4265.

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Published Nov 23, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 23, 2019 at 8:00 am)

HIV risk not to be underestimated

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